Strictly Come Dancing 2020: launch show - who impressed on the dance floor? Who was 'horribly wooden'?

Marianka Swain
·3-min read
Comedian Bill Bailey was paired with Oti Mabuse - could he be a dark horse for the glitterball trophy? - BBC
Comedian Bill Bailey was paired with Oti Mabuse - could he be a dark horse for the glitterball trophy? - BBC

We got our first chance to assess the Series 18 celebrity hopefuls in the launch show’s group dance – and it’s great news. Not only is it a treat to have Strictly back, but this year’s cast is seriously promising.

EastEnders actress Maisie Smith is bookies’ favourite and a clear “ringer”, thanks to her stage school training and win on the Children in Need Strictly special. She was certainly the most accomplished in the group number, combining commitment with precision, and adding performance polish and facial expressions.

However, Strictly voters often prefer the “journey” contestants to those who look professional from the start. Smith should also learn from Karim Zeroual last year, a slick mover who danced independently of his partner. More now than ever, the public will appreciate real connection.

Fellow “yoof” contestant, YouTuber and singer HRVY, also looked strong: light on his feet, quick kicks, and well-matched with bubbly pro Janette Manrara. This petite pair should fare well in the fast dances, but will need to find elegance, control and extension in the statelier ones.

The kids may dominate the betting odds, but don’t rule out the seniors. Actress Caroline Quentin had balletic aspirations as a child, and still retains a dancer’s grace, with lovely arm placement and clean footwork. She’ll have the opposite challenge to HRVY: keeping that beautiful presentation in the speedy dances.

As expected, Bill Bailey is great comic value – but he also has some moves. His musical talent translated into excellent timing, and he even managed some crisp jive kicks. Paired with 2019 champ Oti Mabuse, is he this year’s surprise twinkle-toes? Radio 1 DJ Clara Amfo is also one to watch. Not only did she have good rhythm, but she made the steps look fun. If she can retain that while learning a full routine, she’ll go far.

Nicola Adams and Katya Jones have made history as the first same-sex pairing on Strictly - BBC
Nicola Adams and Katya Jones have made history as the first same-sex pairing on Strictly - BBC

Less likely to stick around is the horribly wooden former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith. She did attempt hip movement, but struggled to isolate from the rest of her body: less Shakira, more a skyscraper shuddering in an earthquake.

That just leaves a few wild cards. Former Royal Marine Commando JJ Chalmers was slightly awkward, but charming. Made in Chelsea’s Jaime Laing, getting a second shot at Strictly, was certainly enthusiastic, but needs to finish his moves properly. Good Morning Britain’s Ranvir Singh looked like she’d be game for a fun Latin dance – in contrast to Max George of The Wanted, who needs to dial up the energy if he’s going to follow in the winning footsteps of bandmate Jay McGuiness.

American footballer Jason Bell was fearless, but can’t sink that low into his knees and stick his bottom out like he’s bracing for a tackle, otherwise Craig Revel Horwood will be reaching for his 2 paddle.

Most intriguing is our first-ever same-sex pairing. Boxer Nicola Adams immediately looked comfortable with pro Katya Jones, and their matching attire suggested a partnership of equals – perhaps switching lead for different dances. If Adams can master the technique, her Olympian mentality combined with Jones’s boundless creativity might just prove a winning combination.

Which Strictly celebs do you think are contenders and which have two left feet? Tell us in the comments section below